Bob Schmetterer embraces role as visionary for new creativity

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The way Bob Schmetterer sees it, there are two primary benefits to a travel schedule that rarely allows him to linger in one time zone for more than a day or two. His extensive travels expose him to diverse cultures, people and ideas. The endless hours spent hurtling through the air in a metal tube also afford an opportunity to process and assimilate those "strong doses of observations."

It sounds at first like justification for jet lag, but really is a luxury denied those who spend their days catching up to e-mails and voice mails, digging out from piles of paperwork.

And it goes a long way towards explaining why the 56-year-old chairman-CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide is able to articulate in a way few people can the transformative effect of new technologies on industry and society.

In a business well-stocked with outsize personalities, and lightly salted with brilliant thinkers, Bob Schmetterer has pushed his way through to the front lines. His casual air and perpetual tan (made deeper by his silver hair and beard, simple silver wedding band and bright smile) belie a relentless intensity. One minute his hand is draped informally over the back of a couch; the next it's gesturing emphatically to punctuate a point.

To listen to Schmet-terer is to be inspired, and if you spend a few hours discussing the future (of everything) with him the only disappointment is the realization that your voice-mailbox is almost full and e-mails are overflowing and you were supposed to be in a meeting 5 minutes ago. Then you envy him those hours of solitude on airplanes, the luxury of digesting a conversation.

Schmetterer believes passionately that "the underlying foundations of the business are changing." And while he's far from the only executive in advertising mouthing those words, he infuses them with a sense of urgency that's often lacking in these flush economic times. It's easy to say the world is changing but difficult to truly change course when profits are hitting new highs every quarter.

It took courage for Schmetterer to stand before a roomful of creatives gathered at Cannes from all corners of the globe and tell them creativity is no longer about the reel -- but that's exactly what he did.

(An excerpt from that speech appears in Forum on Page 40, since it would diminish its impact to try to summarize it here.)

A lot of people talk about integrated marketing solutions and new-media platforms, but this business still revolves around the 30-second commercial. Sure, the International Advertising Festival at Cannes honors print, out-of-home ads and Internet advertising. But those awards are judged separately and have their own ceremonies. The weeklong festival is still capped by the film gala, keeping TV on a higher level.

This is not a knock against Cannes; the setup there accurately reflects industry priorities. But those priorities, Schmetterer says, need to change -- and fast.

Creativity can be so much more than a short piece of film that interrupts TV programming. As Schmetterer says in his speech, creative thinking is needed not just in advertising strategy but in business strategy.

There are many brilliant marketing and branding strategies that not only have nothing to do with TV commercials but have nothing to do at all with media advertising. In addition to some of the examples pointed out in the speech, Schmet-terer spoke over coffee and an egg-white omelet at the Mercer Kitchen in New York's Soho district about the Guggenheim Foundation's creativity. The foundation has extended its brand by opening new Guggenheim museums around the world, and drawn new audiences with such exhibits as one that presented motorcycles as works of art.

"It's creative thinking in a larger sense," Schmetterer says. "Ideas are the essence of creativity and there is not another group more talented at that than the people in advertising."

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